Saturday, June 27, 2015

White Noise Black Noise

I can't remember a more eventful week. Eight epochal days starting with a terrorist act so heinous; so unfounded, so unbelievably evil that the perpetrator became instantly infamous. A Name that Shall not be Named. A name to frighten children and evoke America's long standing history of killing Black people. Nine souls, martyrs, lambs to the slaughter, innocents. Surely in the future the question "Where were you when the Charleston 9 were killed?" shall join those other seminal questions about the Kennedy Assassination and the Challenger Disaster. As the blood ran on those ancient antebellum bricks of Charleston, calls soon came to remove the Confederate Battle flag. A symbol of white supremacy and black fear that had flown continuously somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon since Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse 150 years ago. Then the flags came down. Like detritus shook from the feet of the future. Like a snake shedding its skin. States and retailers alike had finally agreed that the Civil War was at last over.

But the tectonic plates were only getting started. A social justice tsunami generational in scale was on its way. Our President's signature healthcare reform law; originally derided as, but begrudgingly accepted as, Obamacare was vindicated by the Supreme Court. On the same day the Fair Housing Act was up held ensuring that the feds could go after racial discrimination in housing even when it its not intentional. We learned a new term: disparate impact. Then within 24-hours we were celebrating marriage for all. Now anyone of any gender can marry any one of any gender in any state in this country. It seemed the world was changing right in front of our eyes. A swirling kaleidoscope, tumbling forward, then backward. We were caught in a spinning combine. It was emotional and it was dizzying. It was exhausting.

I have often said the internet democratized us. Anybody with wifi and a laptop can now become a wisdom chamber, filled with eloquent punditry. Or so we think of ourselves as we write our thoughts in the comments section. Each of us a digital blowhard. Usually this noise is something I can pick through; like looking for strawberries on a hot summer day, the cicadas in the background singing. The buzzing of insects is like that of vox populi; it simmers in the back of my mind but it never really disturbs me. I'd read a blog that is to my liking and discard the duds. But with the social cataclysm that occurred in America in the last week the noise became too much. Pundits, professors, TV personalities, social bloggers, Facebook groups, cousins, that guy in the next chair at the barbershop all had varying opinions, each as passionate as the next. Some were spot on, some were convoluted. But the sheer volume of debate coalesced into a brain-shattering chop suey of words; a cacophony of think pieces, status updates, hashtags, comments, memes; epic battles of dim wits with heavy usage of animated gifs to prove their points. We have been buzzfed, Upworhtied, Briebarted and Huff Posted ad nauseam.  Everybody and when I say everybody I mean every-fucking-body had to weigh in on every-fucking-issue!

By the time President Obama finished eulogizing Rev. Clementa Pinkney, singing "Amazing Grace", the heavens opened up in an eruption of judgment and conjecture. Over the last nine days every word anybody has publically spoken on any of these subjects were dissected. Pulled about, gone over with a fine-toothed comb. President Obama went too far on race or he didn't go far enough. He was too soft, he wasn't soft enough. He was bombastic. He used his bully pulpit. He missed this opportunity. Then came the dissenters. Republican presidential candidates made hysterical pronouncements of doom over gays getting married. This was the final hour of man because jiggery pookery was used on something only God can concretize. People spewed invectives. We charged each other with willful ignorance. One screed after another after another. Social media was awash with liberal intellectual outrage. I felt like I had been dropped down into a pit of tigers or vipers. Hissing and growling their displeasure, ready to devour me at any grammatical or logical misstep. It was overwhelming. And this coming from a person who got a U (unsatisfactory) in behavior in the second grade because my teacher told me I liked to debate every word she said.

People have a right to their opinions. Everybody has a right to express them. But can we get off our soapboxes for just a few seconds. The racial/ gender/ sexual orientation carrousel will keep spinning. As the president said in his eulogy "We talk about race all the time." The problem is we don't do anything about it. So instead of writing a blog to let the world know how angry you are over injustice, how about writing a blog on how to cure it. Or better yet finish your latte, close your laptop and go boldly into the world and affect the change you have been complaining about. If the president or your congressman or your pastor or your transgendered-same-gender-loving-non-conformist-evangelical-Southern Pride-Sons-of-Confederate-Veterans-common law spouse ain't doing it the way you want it done then do it yourself.

In the words of Grace Lee Boggs, social activist,

"Rebellions tend to be negative, to denounce and expose the enemy without providing a positive vision of a new future...A revolution is not just for the purpose of correcting past injustices, a revolution involves a projection of man/woman into the future...It begins with projecting the notion of a more human human being, i.e. a human being who is more advanced in the specific qualities which only human beings have - creativity, consciousness and self-consciousness, a sense of political and social responsibility."

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Invisible Kid

I'm so glad that we are living in an age of video and social media. For years many  people rationalized or eschewed racial/ gender/ age/ orientation biases as being untrue or unfounded. We have seen over the last 16 months an onslaught of media evidence that can NO LONGER be ignored. There are biases in this country. Biases which are baked into the bedrock of our nation. Now that's not to say those biases make you a bad person because we all have them; but acting on those biases can lead to dire and even deadly consequences.

So as the story begins to unfold apparently a white teenager confronted a white adult over their racially denigrating remarks about some Black kids that had been invited to a high school graduation pool party in a Dallas suburb. Allegedly this argument between the teen and an adult escalated to the point a fist-fight between some kids broke out. Residents of the mostly white community who had already been calling to complain about the infiltration of Black kids alerted the police. ONE cruiser came out initially and tried to disburse the ever growing crowd to no success. The kids didn't leave. There was no distinction between race at this point. ALL the kids were unruly. The police officer called for back-up and the dispatcher sent eight (8) more units.

The next set of police arrive and start rounding up ONLY the Blacks kids. Making them lie face down on the ground, handcuffing them, chastising them for "running" away. Cursing at many of the kids who seem in the video to be upset, angry and frightened. One officer seemed to be the most aggressive; cursing, running around discombobulated, wrestling teenage boys the ground. There's a point he even yanks one bikini-clad young Black teenage girl to the ground by her braids then pulls a gun on her friends when they rush to her aid. Had it not been for two (2) other officers who grabbed him to deescalate the situation he may have fired his weapon on unarmed kids. He then returns to the young girl and knees her in the back to force her into handcuffs, all the while she screaming for her mother. Her crime? Having a attitude and speaking out like most teenagers.

I am so glad we now have images that can back up the stories that I (from my own dealings with police as a youth) and others have been telling for years. That this problem is systemic and not anecdotal. To be Black in America is to be constantly surveilled. Not because of your actions but because you present a perception of criminality and danger. Black people are constantly being told where we need to be, what we need to wear, how we need to act, what we need to say and how we need to say it unlike ANY ethnic group in this country. Instead of us as Americans addressing this very fact we love to point fingers and blame the other.

I have a prescription to help this country but most people will never use it. To confront the problems of race we have to admit we live in a society that is deeply flawed. That there is a holistic problem of discrimination that; no individual be they a successful Black man or a poor white man can escape. That there is racial disparity in every aspect of American life. Now we can pretend racism ended in 1968 or that everything was fine until President Obama brought it back. But we love to lie to ourselves in this country. The young white teenager who recorded the video remarked that he just stood by and watched as the police rounded up the Black kids and only handcuffed the one white teen. He said he was largely ignored. That's what we do with racism. It is the huge, invisible elephant in the room pressing us back against the walls.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bessie: A near Smith

When Queen Latifah's face rose on the darken screen--like Rigel, the giant blue star, on the horizon--I thought I was in for a lush, dreamy treat; a cinematic croquembouche following a meal of collard greens and fatback washed down with corn liquor. An illogical menu fit for one of America's most quixotic entertainers: Bessie Smith. Ms. Smith was a masterwork of contradiction, born into poverty before rising to the upper ranks of society through her sheer will alone; all the while giving no fucks. What I ended up with was a tepid, hesitant meal that was filling in form and function but ultimately unsatisfying.

The ingredients were all there; a project of love by Queen Latifah, HBO Films, Dee Rees, the phenomenal director whose feature film debut was the powerful character study of Black stud lesbianism "Pariah"; producers Lili and Richard Zanuck (yes those Zanucks) and Shakim Compere (Beauty Shop, Just Wright). That pedigree along with the life and legend of Bessie Smith should have been a five-star Zagat winner but the movie ended up being a routine night at Applebee's albeit with your best drunk girlfriends.

Born in 1894 in Chattanooga, TN, Bessie started singing early and by her eighteenth birthday was performing on the stage in a traveling troupe with her brother. After a short time under the wing of Blues singer Ma Rainey, Smith set out on her own and within a decade would become the biggest and highest paid Black entertainer of her time. Unlike modern performers, raised on social media and TMZ like Nikki Minaj or Rihana, Bessie Smith didn't seek out the spotlight and her often illicit, ill-temper and bawdy behavior put her at odds with early 20th Century sensibilities. She drank, smoked, fought and screwed anybody and anything she liked.

The greater part of the film takes place between her humble beginnings in 1912 through her career's decline and resurgence in the early 1930s. Following her life from sweeping inspiration to crashing despondence with a good line or two thrown in the middle. But it was that spectacular opening scene that sealed the deal for me. Full of ribald glamour. It was breathtaking  and cinematic but unfortunately the rest of the movie never lived up to that promise.

I must say Bessie was a good-looking movie. Oftentimes Hollywood throws Black actors under the bus with bad lighting and lens effects. Think of those horrible 80s high school yearbook pictures with those hideous blue backgrounds. Cinematographer Jeff Jur, production designer Clark Hunter, along with art director Drew Monahan did a spectacular job making the diverse cast look good. A special shout-out to costume designer Michael T. Boyd (Secretariat, Into the West). Some of the clothes were anachronistic but he did a fantastic job of dressing the actors. So often--as in movies/ television series like The Great Gatsby, Titanic and Downton Abbey--we see costume silhouettes designed for reed thin women. Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique ain't them. I was so glad he was not afraid to use both color and fit to give the main characters a real period feel. Some of the background costumes were out of step but the main cast looked casket sharp.

As casting goes I think Queen Latifah was a bit out of her depth in this role. She has the natural swagger to pull off Bessie Smith's more outrageous behavior but when it came to the movie's more rigorous scenes, like when her marriage was collapsing, I felt like she retreated into Khadijah James. In one scene where she had to confront her older sister Viola (Khandi Alexander) who had abused her as a child Latifah was so stiff I was hoping Ragine, Max and Sinclair would appear through the door singing "In a 90s kinda world..." just to give her some relief. Now that's not to say she turned in a bad performance because she didn't. There were some parts that were heartfelt and brave--going nude for almost a full minute. Mo'Nique was excellent playing Ma Rainey--but I must say it was Mo'Nique playing Mo'Nique the way she thought Mo'Nique would play Ma Rainey if you can understand that. Of all the actors I think Michael K. Williams, as her manager-husband-sparing partner Jack Gee, did the best with what had been written. His willfulness and violence were supposed to come across as dangerous and sexy, but the way the movie was edited he seemed to be a bit unhinged at times. I feel he was the story's strongest performer and constituted the Greek Chorus of the film. Even in the movie's more salacious moments of lesbian sex and gender bending (Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith would often dress in boy drag) it just didn't seem as shocking or groundbreaking as I'm sure it was in the early 1920s.  I would have liked for Dee Rees to pull something more subversive from her performers.

The script was a bit too routine for me. A movie about Bessie Smith deserved a teleplay that was frenetic like her life. Chris Cleveland, Bettina Gilois, Dee Rees with the story written by Horton Foote gave us something that was a bit too by the numbers for me. It had all the sizzle of a Lifetime movie. It hit all the points a biopic should hit, disadvantaged childhood, soaring talent, booze, sex and decline. There was a series of flashbacks to Ms. Smith's childhood which was supposed to inform us of abuse at the hands of her sister but it just seemed disconnected to the main story and could have been left on the editing floor. My suggestion would have been for the writers to sit down and watch a marathon of Snapped on True Crime TV at least that may have added some more vigor to the script.

The biggest miss for me was the music. Other than a few stage numbers the movie was basically devoid of Bessie Smith's songs. Instead we got a score written by Rachel Portman (Belle, Cider House Rules) that was just too romantic for me. It put a collar on the film and wouldn't let it move freely and was too manipulative for a movie about such a freewheeling woman. I would have preferred Bessie to punctuate Bessie.

Bessie was a solid film. Dare I say a good one. A movie I will probably watch many times in the future. But it was sorta like going to your Aunt Cora's house for Thanksgiving knowing she was going to cook her ass off only to find that Cora had let her sister Phyllis from Philadelphia--the one who thought kale and collards were interchangeable--prepare dinner. You had a good time but when you were on your way home you stopped by KFC.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Billie Holiday: the agony and ecstasy of Lady Day

The Baltimore Spring was upon us. Turmoil, frustration, beauty, chaos, racism, betrayal and addiction. A potent mix that lead the young people of B-more to rise up and burn the city. It was an ugly situation; with blood and death and anger and unyielding truths juxtaposed against righteous outrage. These same words could be used to describe Billie Holiday.

Billie was born into a nomadic family. Her mother was ejected from Baltimore when she was only 19 years old to be with a man she fell in love with whom was hated by her family. As these things inevitably go the man left her mother and young Billie alone Philadelphia. Her mother not being able to take care of her daughter let her stay with a half-sister in Baltimore for a time. So its fitting that as I thought about doing a blog about Billie I found her ties to the city we just saw erupt in fire more was than ironic; it was comme il faut.

Billie Holiday was the real deal. She was the antithesis of the unfiltered gla-MOUR of Lena Horne and the more lived-in older sister of the coquettish sweet sultriness of the ingenue Dorothy Dandrige. Contemporary artist like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse sing in her footsteps with the pain and truth of the love-lorn and addicted. Billie lived her life open and for every one to see. She was often abused by men and drugs and like Baltimore she crumbled and faltered. She was made an example of and mistreated. But when you heard those tones in her voice you knew she knew about the things she was singing about.

Voices and souls like hers are fleeting. Shining beacons that flare bright and burnout young. At the early age of 17 she had her own night club gig at Club Covan in Harlem. Within a year she had recorded her first two records with Benny Goodman no less. "Riffin' the Scotch" became her first big hit. Soon she was introduced to Louis Armstrong and by 1935 she had a small role as a woman being abused by her lover in Duke Ellington's short Symphony "Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life". In her scene, she sang the song "Saddest Tale". A poetic situation that would be all too true.

But like Baltimore, there was more to her than the glamorous ruin we remember from Diana Ross's masterful performance in Lady Sings the Blues. She was alive in all senses of the word. She was no stranger to scandal and those close to her said she relished the drama. Her list of lovers was long and notorious from the actor Charles Laughton to the director Orson Welles to the actress Tallulah Bankhead, their public falling out became the stuff of legend; There were rumors of others like Lester Young, Greta Garbo and Carmen McCrae. She was married twice but cheated on both. She was an avid animal lover (though she wore fur and lots of it) and would take her dogs everywhere. Even when she was arrested on narcotics charges. She was both funny and infuriating. She was complicated.

But whatever you think of Lady Day or Lady Baltimore from the few images of her singing with her iconic gardenia or the glimpse of the now iconic burning pharmacy. The one thing that is true is that neither of their stories has fully been written.

The Legend, The Icon, The Lady Day
Billie Holiday

I don't see you!

Billie Holiday at 20

Ms. Holiday kept few things hidden in her life

Styling and profiling for your nerves

After her narcotics arrest in 1956 with
her favorite companion

On the stage at Carnegie Hall, 1947

Ms. Holiday is not feeling the detectives

Jamming in a session

A tale of 2 Billies. Billie Holiday and
William Faulkner

Buddy DeFranco, Red Norvo, Beryl Booker, Leonard Feather, Billie Holiday, Louis McKay, 1954

One last cigarette. A portrait by Dennis Stock, 1954.

Tempest in a turban, Duke Ellington, Ms. Holiday and critic, pianist and composer Leonard Feather

Billie and Ella, back together now

Riffin the Scotch

Cover Girl, 1949

Friday, May 1, 2015

What does the George Washington Bridge, The Exorcist and a burned out CVS in Baltimore have to do with each other?

I, like many Americans, watched the city of Baltimore devolve into conflagration last Monday night when bands of young people kicked the hell out of a CVS's ass. The national press descended--as they do, the vultures that they have become--on the city and reported the uprising as if it were an unpredicted natural disaster. A seismic anomaly heretofore never seen in this part of the country. An event so bizarre and remote it could be likened to Godzilla rising from the Patapso River bringing great sweeping destruction and radioactive fire.

We heard anchors use flummoxed words decry "lawlessness" in voice over as images of mostly African American  teenagers plunder buildings, throw objects, smash cars rotated ad infinitum on our screens searing in the message that Black teens are unruly beasts incapable of work, abstinence or self-control. Then like an invading alien force the doors of the mother ships opened and the "on the street" reporters were dispatched to give their lopsided moralistic view points; explaining to those of us watching at home that the problem in the inner city was bad parenting, government free stuff and uppity civil rights leaders. The rogues gallery was all there, from FOX News's Grand Dame of Yellow Journalism, Geraldo Rivera, to CNN's sycophant of White Supremacy Don Lemon. Presiding over this shit show was Jeff Zucker's tarnished dowager, Wolf Blitzer, enforted in the crumbling capital of fact-free news, the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. They blitzed the streets with as much bring-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap rhetoric as possible. Chiding the Black community on its behavior as if Baltimore got that way overnight. Once the video of Toya Gragham dispensing Black Mama Justice went viral I knew all talk of the root cause of the unrest in Baltimore would evaporate only to be replaced with bullshit and conjecture.

Watching the coverage kept making me thinking of the novel "The Exorcist".  When I was in the 11th grade I read the book "The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty. At that time I had not seen the movie and wanted to know what all the hype was about. Not only was it a great read; it contained one of the most powerful paragraphs ever written. A passage that I actually had engraved on a plaque to keep it on my desk to remind me there is always a reason to look deeper. It is the first paragraph of Chapter 1: The Beginning.

"Like the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men's eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all. It was difficult to judge."

And there it was.

America was looking at the horror of a burning Baltimore without connecting it to the beginning. Those roots of despair were being ignored. Those exploding suns of poverty, racism, police brutality, mass incarceration never registered on America's eyes because she was willfully blind. Baltimore didn't collapse because Black people were lazy, Baltimore was engineered to be that way. With a fuse as long as the one in an old "Mission Impossible" opening Baltimore had been smoldering for decades.

Police violence in nothing new to African Americans. Whereas Jim Crow laws, the KKK and hordes of white people could lynch at will across the South, the police became white supremacy's muscle in the North and West. From Boston to Milwaukee to Oakland cops have always brutalized Black people living in cities. The police force has increasingly been used to keep America's Black poor hidden from the pristine sight of the white suburbs. Like the dirty children of Ignorance and Want under the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Present. An American cornucopia that many will never eat from.

The Watts Rebellion of 1965 occurred when angry residents of the Los Angeles community heard that cops had beaten up an African American mother and her two sons after a traffic stop. Twenty-five years later Miami went up in flames when a police officer fatally shot a black man causing his motorcycle to crash killing his passenger, another young Black man. Now, almost like clockwork we have another city burning because a young Black man died at the hands of the police. Yet bad parenting and the dead victim's own culpability seem to always be the culprit instead of America facing the truth: police need to stop killing Black people.

I knew things were gonna get bad when Nancy Reagan first appeared as the face of the "War on Drugs". Clad in James Galanos, as fabulous as she was, a rich white woman, the wife of a president, speaking to inner city youth could only mean one thing: TROUBLE. And that's what we got. The War on Drugs has been a mother fucker to poor Black people. Starting with Reagan-Bush then Clinton, this one law enforcement effort has put more Black men in prison than were enslaved 100 years ago. Bill Clinton, who is affectionately called our "first Black president", should actually be labeled a sell out. His administration paved the way for draconian drug sentencing laws that decimated entire communities.

The War on Drugs was never really a war on drugs. Granted during the height of the crack epidemic in the late 80s and early 90s many people both Black and white felt the need to stamp down on skyrocketing violence. But the War of Drugs was a political tactic. It was used famously by politicians like Rudy "the Ghoul" Giuliani in his mayoral race of 1993 and by high profile police officials like Daryl Gates in Los Angeles. The War on Drugs was coded in such a way that it made white suburbanites feel safe to come into cities like Philadelphia or Detroit, because they knew cops wouldn't let roving Black and Latino thugs attack them on their way to the opera or a hockey game. At that time nobody cared that brown kids who could have been saved with sensible laws--yes Donna Shalala was right--were being ensnared and locked up for decades for low level drug possession. Around this same time cities  like New York came up with programs like "Broken Windows" pioneered by commissioner Bill Bratton, which made it permissible for police to go into neighborhoods and harass/ arrest thousands of young Black men for no other reason except them being on the street.

The War on Drugs was never really about drugs. If it were there wouldn't be disparity in drug arrests. There have been study after study showing that Black people and white people use drugs at the same rate. Yet in some communities like Baltimore Black men are arrested for drug possession at a rate of 100 times higher than their white counterparts. When FOX commentators kept asking "Where are the fathers?" last Monday night I kept screaming "They're in prison you assholes!"

I experienced this siege first hand. When I first moved to New York in 1991 the city was a boiling caldera of drug violence. That year more people were murdered than any other single year in NYC history. For many residents violence from both neighbors and police were a daily occurrence. Something had to be done. So the great prosecutorial savior Rudy Giuliani went into action.

It was the summer of 1995 and I was paying a visit to a friend who lived in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan. A predominately Latino, poor community it sat at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. It was hot so we went outside to get a sweet cool treat from a Dominican Icy cart. We noticed a police paddy-wagon and curiosity made us stop and watch. The NYPD had set up a sting operation. White suburbanites would cross the bridge from New Jersey, buy drugs on the streets of Washington Heights then hop back on the bridge and return to New Jersey. But instead of arresting the white folk the cops would only grab the Black and Latino kids. We stood there for about 3 hours sipping on cocofressa and watching in horror as white men and women driving BMWs and Mercedes with Jersey plates pull off and return to their lives in Fort Lee or Paramus or Hacekensack and all points west, with no one ever knowing of their addiction or lawlessness. Yet these young men of color were scooped up and taken away, their lives destroyed in an instant. Just so some politician can claim he's tough on crime. That he rid the streets of thugs.

Last Monday night I thought about those young men I saw go into that police van twenty years ago. They put so many in there is seemed infinite. An unlucky TARDIS. One minute of bad judgement on 179th Street and Broadway, a lifetime in Ossining or Attica. I often wonder what happened to them? Nobody ever seems to know. They are the vanished. Just like Freddie Gray. Nobody seems to know anything. Freddie Gray went into one of those vans alive and came out so broken he died a week later. We don't know what happened to Freddie Gray but according to the news his mother was sorry, his father was absent, he had a switchblade and he was walking the streets of Baltimore looking at cops in their eyes. None of those things are capital crimes unless you are a Black person. So we sit and look at Baltimore burn. And wonder how we got here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lena Horne, Light Egyptian

Josephine Baker may have created the road for Black women on the stage and screen but Lena Horne paved it for all who came after. Starting with her 1943 breakout performance in Stormy Weather, Lena Horne became America's first African American sex symbol. Not only was she stunning she was talented. Not only was she talented she was savvy. Not only was she savvy she was not afraid to speak her mind. The original mocha showgirl. I met Lena Horne once when I was working as a manager at a kitchen store named Lechter's. It was 1995 or so. The store was located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was near the back when I noticed a thin women of impeccable taste glissade into our establishment. I was used to seeing glamorous older women shopping  but something about her caught my eye. When I noticed who she was I rushed to the front and introduced myself. Her hands were soft and eyes dimmed with age were still full of life. I gushed like a chorus girl. After she left I turned to the cashier and said "Didn't you recognize her?" She said "Yeah, the lady from the toothpaste commercials." If I could I would have fired her on the spot.

Our paths crossed one again when I had the pleasure of seeing Lena Horne perform one of her legendary cabaret shows. The crowd was sparkling and I must admit I was probably 35 years younger than most of the patrons. Lena sauntered onto the stage and put on one of the most spectacular shows I've ever seen in person. I was thinking I was about to sip a cool iced tea made with refined sugar, what I got was potent blend of bourbon and sugarcane. She sang with such pith and soul I could feel each note tug at my heart. And she was bawdy and sexual. A woman in her eighties rolling the floor in a silk gown growling like a tigress in heat. I loved it. She was a Brooklyn girl.

Maybe Native New Yorker fierceness made her never shy from being candid. From working closely with Civil Rights leaders to speaking openly about Hollywood racism, Lena was a one of a kind. When the studio thought she wasn't reading "Negro enough" on film they had famed make-up artist Max Factor make her a custom shade named "Light Egyptian", as Lena recalled in her 1981 Broadway show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, the studio took the Light Egyptian make up put it on Ava Gardner and gave her the part on the movie version of Showboat.

In her long almost 100 years on this earth Lena Horne touched so many lives, from breaking barriers to breaking heart. She was always a class act and she always proved that Black Girls Rock.

Lena Horne and Bill Robinson giving musical realness, Stormy Weather, 1943

Lena serving you more legs than a bucket of chicken, darling

Lena's Tour de France, on board the steamship Liberté with her husband MGM musical director Lennie Hayton on their return to America, 1952

Pretty angry, Lena Horne by Ricard Avedon, 1958

Lena believed in keeping a fetching man around the house. Her first husband Louis Jordan Jones in Pittsburgh, 1937

 A studio still from 1935

Blackglamazon, What Becomes a Legend Most? Lena in fur that's what, 1969

Lena lifting spirits with Tuskegee Airmen in Alabama, 1943

 The King and Queen, Lena and Harry Belafonte threw Dr. Martin Luther King a party after the March on Washington, 1963

Lena with Medgar Evers shortly before his murder, 1963

Now Sissy That Walk, Lena using New York City sidewalks as a runway

Ava darling I love you but you know Lena shoulda been Julie LaVerne

Broadway Baby, Lena outside the Nederlander Theater, 1981 

Fight the Power, Lena fighting for equality at the March on Washington, August 1963

Her face is sickening!

Background noise, apparently the fitters couldn't take Lena

Baby I just want to join whatever cause these two are championing

Lena Horne's iconic pic that inspired me to write

Girl I make this look too easy!

In living color, 1947

Now we know where Miss Piggy got her style, Lena Horne on the Muppet Show